There are so many choreographers and dance companies in the Seattle area these days that some of them are bound to fly below the radar. That’s certainly the case with Ashani Dances, the troupe formed three years ago by Iyun Ashani Harrison.
Based on this past weekend’s production the company proved that it, and Harrison, deserve wider recognition and support.
After the program opener of a pleasant but unmemorable piece by Eric Rivera, it was all Harrison, with three very different works. Together, they showcased an artist of diverse talents with sophisticated musical tastes and an understanding of how to use a bare stage to full effect. Appearing at the Broadway Performance Hall, Harrison relied on lighting, rather than expensive sets, to enhance the mood and energy of his ballets. The costumes were simple but effective.
“The Leaves Have Fallen” is a gentle love duet for two male dancers. Set to a Philip Glass score, it explores the ebbs and flows of their relationship as the dancers – the powerful Harrison and a rubbery Sam Picart – move toward and away from each other in a series of swooping moves. Harrison is a master of mystery here, keeping us guessing until the very last moment whether they will stay together or separate.
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“Of Passage” is also a male-only work. It begins with a mesmerizing sequence of four men, clad in dark velvety unitards, moving through a series of yoga postures – cobra, bridge, plank. A recording of throat singers of Tuva provide a deep bass musical background, adding to the feeling of holiness. Gradually the dancers rise and as the music changes to selections from Steve Reich and Russ Hartenberger, they enact a solemn ritual. The final image of a sole dancer, walking post-death to a white light, is spellbinding.
With the final work on the program, “Hush,” Harrison changed mood and style again. The ballet takes its name from the Yo Yo Ma/Bobby McFerrin album of the same name, excerpts of which provide the score, and is a delightful romp for 10. Again, Harrison surprised, putting one of the women in pointe shoes and adding familiar elements of contemporary ballet. Harrison doesn’t break new choreographic ground with “Hush” but he captures perfectly the joy of dancing that motivates all movement artists.
There are a number of standout performers in the troupe – besides Picart, Shannon McCormick and Sean Rosado are especially polished – but there were a few shaky landings and a lack of unison on occasion, probably the result of insufficient rehearsal time. On balance, however, this is definitely a company to watch.
Alice Kaderlan is a Seattle-based arts journalist who write about dance and other subjects.